L.K. Advani seems to have found in
the new method of a personal blog on the internet a highly
effective way of keeping himself in the limelight. For an
octogenarian to avail himself of this modern-day variant of an
article in the print media or a press conference to express his
views is a matter of considerable credit because it not only
underlines his eagerness to remain in public life by keeping up
with the changing times but also shows that he is full of ideas
which he wants to share.
This excellent trait has however been somewhat discomfiting for
the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which, like most parties, likes
to keep its internal ruminations a secret, especially those
relating to itself. So, when Advani says that the BJP has fallen
short of the popular expectations created by the Congress's
failures of governance, or when he argues that the next prime
minister may not be from either the BJP or the Congress, then he
creates a flutter in his own party and outside.
The context of the last remark was noteworthy. It followed a
virtual demand from Nitish Kumar that the BJP should not even
think of projecting Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial
candidate. Although the Bihar chief minister has expressed this
view earlier, his latest reassertion is apparently a pre-emptive
move based on the belief that a third successive victory by Modi
in the forthcoming Gujarat assembly elections will leave the BJP
with no alternative but to support the Gujarat chief minister's
not-so-secret desire to move to the national stage.
Nitish Kumar's subsequent remark that he had no intention of
standing for the prime ministerial post was obviously intended to
douse suspicions that his anti-Modi stance was meant to boost his
own prospects. But, whatever the personal motivations, Advani lost
no time to seize the opportunity to make his own point. Behind his
controversial foray, however, is a hint to his own party that,
first, the road to the prime minister's office is not strewn with
roses and, second, that there aren't any widely acceptable
contenders within the BJP as in Atal Behari Vajpayee's time.
In the process of presenting this scenario, Advani seems to have
courted the risk of ruling himself out - an acknowledgement of the
bitter truth that his party is not too keen on his candidature.
But, at the same time, he has emphasized the politically
unpleasant reality of a leadership vacuum in the two national
parties. To many, this may amount to stating the obvious. But for
a leader of Advani's stature to say this is a disturbing message
for the country as a whole.
The Congress will disagree, of course, by arguing that it has not
one but two prime ministerial candidates in Manmohan Singh and
Rahul Gandhi. But, by that token, the BJP has several - Modi,
Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and perhaps Advani himself. So, the
numbers do not really count. What is more relevant is the calibre
of the claimants. From this standpoint, the vacuum is discernible.
For, where the Congress is concerned, neither Manmohan Singh, who
has been called an "under-achiever" by Time magazine, nor Rahul
Gandhi, who has only been playing "cameo roles", according to Law
Minister Salman Khurshid, inspires confidence.
The BJP's position is no better. If Modi is considered a
front-runner, judging from Nitish Kumar's angst, it is only
because the Gujarat chief minister has been advertising his own
case by holding sadbhavna or goodwill fasts and claiming that his
record of development has outshone the charges of his complicity
in the communal violence of 2002. But, since the anti-minority
stain has not been erased and there are serious objections to his
claims from others in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA),
it is now fairly certain that he will find it extremely difficult
to secure his party's support, as the Advani blog suggests. That
leaves Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley, neither of whom measures up to
the public perception of a prime minister.
The alternative, as Advani has said, is to have a non-Congress,
non-BJP candidate although history shows that such interlopers
from the regional parties - like H.D. Deve Gowda or disgruntled
former Congressmen like Morarji Desai or Charan Singh or Chandra
Shekhar or V.P. Singh or I.K. Gujral - do not survive for long.
The outlook, therefore, is bleak. While three untimely deaths -
those of Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966, Indira Gandhi in 1984 and
Rajiv Gandhi in 1991- deprived the Congress of their prolonged
tenures and the possibility of building up the next generation of
leaders, Rahul Gandhi has failed to live up to expectations.
The BJP, on the other hand, is hobbled by its anti-minority image
as a result of the overarching influence on the party exerted by
the Hindu supremacist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). A country
of a billion-plus people remains without someone it can look up to
as a leader.
Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org